With TRON Lightcycle Run racing towards completion and (hopefully) opening this holiday season at Walt Disney World, work continues to modernize Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. This trend continues with updates to two of our favorites–Carousel of Progress and the PeopleMover.
This comes as Tomorrowland has received a slew of placemaking updates in the last few years, which mostly roll back the Tomorrowland ’94 look to the cleaner style of the original Tomorrowland. Much of this has involved the removal of ornamentation and embellishments, plus new retro-inspired signage replacing more elaborate ones.
The result thus far has been a mixed bag. Tomorrowland once again has Space Age style, with swooping lines and eye-catching visuals that are imbued with a sense of retro-futuristic optimism. However, there’s still a lot of Tomorrowland ’94 in place. Some of this was simply painted over or concealed, likely deemed too costly or involved to restore the retro-futuristic style. Now, changes have come to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover…
While relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, we’re absolutely ecstatic about these changes. In fact, we’ve been begging for these exact updates for a long time. Four years ago, I posted Tom’s Top 7: Walt Disney World Ride Upgrade Wish List, which put Carousel of Progress near the top and mentioned that the first draft of the wish list had 6 of the 7 entries in Tomorrowland.
That also mentioned a past post I wrote titled “Give Me $2,975 And I Will Fix Carousel of Progress.” Specifically, that underscored just how little money it would take to make the Carousel of Progress finale less embarrassing. My idea was hyperbolic to the extent that I can’t actually build anything–and also in that I know Disney can’t replace a lightbulb without multiple conference calls, research trips, and other costly endeavors. While at least a decade overdue and still not quite what the last act needs in full, some of those changes have finally come to Carousel of Progress. Take a look…
Let’s start on the left side of the living room, where Patricia and grandpa appear above in their old looks.
No major updates really needed for grandpa, who is sporting a relatively timeless style for older men. For a while, Patricia’s oversized pink sweater was woefully outdated and very 1990s. Now, that look has come back into fashion. The clunky white and pink ski boots she’s holding, by contrast, have not. I remember seeing this back in the late 1990s and thinking that those boots looked ancient as compared to ones I had at the time.
Above is grandpa’s new look.
This swaps out the cardigan vest for a cable knit cardigan and plaid slacks. Mostly a lateral move here, which is about right. In Imagineering’s defense, my older relatives also dress more or less the same today as they did in the 1990s. (This is no knock–I’m counting down the days until I can adopt “old man attire” and never buy new clothes again.)
Patricia now has a more modern hairstyle, which is a big improvement. She also sports a “Progress Tech – School of Urban Planning” hoodie. That sweatshirt is a clear reference to Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, the original plan for EPCOT. You can see Walt’s urban planning ambitions in the Progress City model near the beginning of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover.
She also swaps out the 90s pants for plaid pajamas and ski boots for regular winter boots. All in all, a smart update–that style of college hoodie has been around for ages as have plaid pj pants. LL Bean and Sorel have made winter boots that look like that since…the early 1900s? Patty’s outfit should be fairly future-proofed.
Turning to the other side of the room, here’s a look at the four family members (grandma, James, John, and Sarah) in the kitchen of the Carousel of Progress finale before the changes.
Some of the styles here are definitely dated, with hair and attire in need of a refresh. However, as with VR component of the finale, other outfits have come full circle and are back in again–just look at this rugby currently available at J.Crew.
James sports a new grey and blue 1/2-zip pullover. The crest on the left breast features a mountain, sun, and snowflake. I swear I’ve seen this before, but can’t find the crest anywhere–it’s probably from the Matterhorn, but Mineral King is another possibility (and would be a great deep cut).
He also has new jeans and has ditched the Reeboks in favor of some festive slippers. Speaking of which…
These slippers are a clear nod to the goofy reindeer designed by Disney Legend Bill Justice that appeared in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade until around 2014. These used to have longer tongues but those were shortened–purportedly by an entertainment manager who felt they looked ridiculous.
The current reindeer are perfectly adequate, but that’s precisely the problem. They look like fake reindeer you could find performing anywhere, and lack the personality that define great Disney characters. “Ridiculous” is a good thing–the Bill Justice reindeer are memorable because of their caricatured appearance. I’d love to see them return someday, and thus bring them up from time to time in mostly off-topic places…like here.
Grandma received a whole new look, and it’s fantastic. Her hair and outfit now have the same youthful energy as her performance as a space pilot in Cyber Command.
I’d say this is the biggest improvement of the bunch. It’s also downright amusing how much style has evolved for older women in the past couple of decades, while remaining largely the same for older men. Nice to see grandpa and grandma both looking classy now.
Next, we have John sporting a fresh new haircut that looks like it was hit with some Just for Men.
He’s also wearing a red nordic Christmas sweater, a minor tweak to presumably match his new apron, which reads “My Food Rocks!” That’s another extinct attraction reference, this time to Food Rocks at EPCOT Center, which replaced Kitchen Kabaret and itself was replaced by Soarin.
Finally, Sarah has a new hairstyle that no longer makes her look like a 90s sitcom mom.
The rest of her outfit looks chic and classy, which is quite the contrast to John. I’d imagine this is more or less how Sarah and I look when she’s working at her laptop while I’m starting fires in the kitchen. (Come to think of it, there are some eerily similarities between us and the Progress Parents. Did we unwittingly model our marriage after two robots?!)
No other changes to the set that I could spot. A few years ago, some of the electronics were swapped out (e.g. new TV speakers and a laptop for Sarah). The bulletin board with the iconic “Marty called – wants changes!” message, a reference to Disney Legend Marty Sklar, remains intact. As do newspaper clippings from the 1990s related to computers.
I’m sort of surprised more wasn’t changed. It would’ve been easy to change out the furniture (especially the dining room table and other pieces not in use) or the desktop computer, and that would’ve modernized this scene even more. Perhaps there’s still more work to be done?
What these changes suggest to me is that Carousel of Progress won’t be receiving a new last act anytime soon. Given that, I hope that more minor tweaks to the set are still on the way that modernize the space a bit more. New furniture, appliances, and electronics would be great–and all quick fixes that wouldn’t cost much money.
If I’m really dreaming, I’d love to see the VR video game get updated graphics and headsets. I suspect Disney’s Corporate Alliances division could even get one of the VR companies to foot the bill (and then some) for the changes, in an effort to gain market share and brand recognition. A couple minor tweaks to the script to remove the words “laserdisc” and “carphone” would also be huge.
Otherwise, it’s pretty remarkable just how accurate this last act’s predictions about the future turned out. The aforementioned references to laserdiscs and carphones, plus the video game graphics are a dead giveaway this is from the 1990s. That’s about it, though. The rest of the dialogue could pass for a current conversation about progress. With those minor revisions (plus an interior design refresh), you’d be hard pressed to tell whether this scene was added 3 months ago or nearly 3 decades ago. A few more tweaks and the finale could likely last another decade or longer.
From my perspective, the best long-term move would be to restore the original World’s Fair version of the attraction, with some sort of narrative framing that it’s being presented by the Tomorrowland Metro-Retro Historical Society or something. No one bats an eye at the Progress City model in the TTA, and I think this would work if Tomorrowland embraces retro-futurism in its redesign. This is highly unlikely to happen anytime soon given the outfit refreshes, but would be a good change sometime down the road.
In even bigger news, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover also received a new narration as of July 2022. I still vividly remember being in Magic Kingdom the day the last narration debuted in October 2009. Those were in the nascent days of social media–we heard from Cast Members in the park that changes had occurred, and raced over to ride the TTA in excitement to see what had been added to the attraction. (There were rumors at the time that the ride would be getting new show scenes and lighting effects.)
To say I was devastated would be an understatement. In looking back at our trip report, I went on a thousand-plus word tirade, decrying the new narration as dull and complaining that a “pimply faced, crackling voice, pre-pubescent teenage boy hiccuped from the speaker, talking about Stitch and Pixar.” (I will spare you the rest of my ranting from 2009–the point is that I had strong opinions about the previous narration.)
To some degree, the 2009-2022 TTA PeopleMover narration grew on me over time. I wouldn’t say I ever liked it, but it stopped sending me into a rage long ago. And that’s progress.
The point is that I have strong opinions about narrations for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and am not easily satisfied. This may not be something about which other Walt Disney World fans give much thought, and understandably so since it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
However, it is something that I find to be very important. For me, a good narration should have personality, quotable lines, and a distinct voice. It’s something that, like so many aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation, sticks in your memory and offers a rush of nostalgia when you hear it again.
Sometimes, it takes experiencing something a few times before developing that fondness or sentimentality. Given that, I went into my first ride aboard the TTA PeopleMover with no expectations for the 2022 narration. To my surprise and delight, I was hooked from the moment the safety spiel started. Take a ride with us:
We actually ended up riding many, many times over the holiday weekend in an attempt to get a clean video. That was easier said than done due to regular breakdowns and loud running “commentary” from fellow travelers. I managed to capture this one night minutes before park closing with no one else around.
While it doesn’t match the 1994-2009 narration for me with that deep voice and quirky script, it’s objectively very good. It’s also a dramatic improvement over the flat narration of the last decade-plus. Not only are there tons of callbacks, but the dialogue is distinct and there are lots of standout lines. This narration is destined to become a classic for a new generation of Magic Kingdom guests, who will likely be as furious as I was when it’s inevitably replaced in another decade or so.
The narration is voiced by an enthusiastic AI known as ORAC-5, which is itself a reference to the ORAC-1 narrator from 1985 to 1994 (another iconic version of the narration for many longtime fans). That’s just one of many references to past incarnations of the attraction.
Most notably, the memorable pre-announcement chime from 1994 makes a reprise. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to hear a chiming noise in my life. It’s such a satisfying sound, and instantly transports me back to 2008. (Maybe I just have more “transportation sound nostalgia” than the average person. I absolutely love train station sound effects and recordings, too.)
Certain lines of dialogue are homages to the Tomorrowland ’94 narration, including parts of the safety spiel and a reference to the TTA Blue Line. There are also references to extinct attractions, including If You Had Wings, Take Flight, and Mission to Mars. There’s also a nod to the old Carousel of Progress theme song, “The Best Time of Your Life (Now is the Time).”
Ultimately, these are relatively minor victories in the grand scheme of additions, changes, and upgrades needed at Walt Disney World. But they are victories. It’s very much worth celebrating these improvements, and drawing attention to them–just as we do with the bad things happening at the parks.
These are the kinds of small details that matter disproportionately to diehard fans, so giving Walt Disney World a bit of “positive reinforcement” could result in similar such improvements in the future. (Conversely, complaining about any and everything disincentivizes Disney from caring about what we think.)
Here’s hoping that Tomorrowland has a bright future and updates this only accelerate as the opening date for TRON Lightcycle Run draws nearer. It would be wonderful if Walt Disney World allowed Imagineering to meld the original Space Age design of this land with the biomimicry and organic stylization of TRON Lightcycle Run to produce something that’s at once futuristic and classic.
Personally, I think clean design and sweeping lines leading to TRON Lightcycle Power Run–with that attraction’s architecture and neon lighting punctuating the style of Tomorrowland–would look fantastic. It’s certainly not perfect, but with the disparate Space Mountain standing tall right next door, there is no perfect solution. At least in this (realistic) scenario, we end up with a Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom that mostly works on an aesthetic level, and is not a visually jarring mishmash of ideas and eras.
What do you think about the new narration for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and finale updates to the Carousel of Progress at Magic Kingdom? Any hopes for additional updates or an overarching reimagining of the land’s aesthetic before TRON Lightcycle Run opens? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!